If you are writing for print media, you are not likely to be asked to provide an unpaid sample article written specifically for a potential client. Free custom articles, however, seem to be a common request for online writing gigs.
From a client’s perspective, this offers a few advantages:
- A writer’s portfolio or writing samples might be really great, but if they are far from his desired topic, it’s hard to judge whether or not the writer will be able to adequately convey information about your business to your audience. A short writing sample on a given topic can give a much clearer picture of a writer’s abilities.
- While there are a fair number of plagiarism detectors available on the Web, asking for a custom article can add some measure of assurance that the writer can actually write, rather than cut and paste skillfully.
- Finally, an unscrupulous client can request sample articles from all applicants, and have an instant library of articles without paying for a single one of them.
From a writer’s perspective, I’d suggest that you ought to refuse requests for sample articles for a number of reasons:
- By allowing a potential client to dictate unreasonable demands before you even have a contract, you’re setting a precedent that may lead to the client making further unreasonable requests for unreasonable compensation if you do get the contract.
- Your time is valuable. As a freelancer, you don’t have a physical product to sell, all you have is your skill and your time. Writing hundreds of words for free, for someone who may never become a client, is like flushing dollar bills down the toilet. There are plenty of things you could be writing instead that could benefit you and your business.
- The practice is far too easy to abuse. By requesting hundreds of sample articles from applicants, the business advertising the freelance gigs may be looking to avoid contracting out work by getting it all done for free.
Of course, each person and job is different, and if the position looks legitimate, and you’ve received a very specific, non-generic response that proves that the client has seen your writing samples before requesting more, it may be worth your while to whip off a few hundred words.
Just be sure that you indicate that the article is NOT a work for hire, and you retain all rights to those words. Being explicit about your rights should ward off those who would steal your talent and time for their own profit.